ACN - 101321555 Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)
Generic filters
Exact text matches only
Search into
Filter by Categories
Research integrity
Filter by Categories
Human Research Ethics

Resource Library

Research Ethics MonthlyAbout Us

Human Research Ethics

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

The need to seek institutional approval to survey staff – was this a misunderstanding of the purpose of Guideline 2.2.13 in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research?0


Katherine (Kate) Christian, Carolyn Johnstone, Jo-ann Larkins and Wendy Wright
Federation University


We have conducted a research project investigating the factors contributing to the satisfaction – or dissatisfaction – of early-career researchers (ECRs) from across Australia working in the sciences. A requirement of our ethics approval was a need to provide evidence from every university and research institute of permission to approach their staff to invite their participation in our research.

This requirement was a consequence of answering ‘yes’ to the following question:

If your research involves participants from other organisations (e.g. educational institutions, companies, agencies, collectives), you may need to obtain authorised approval before approaching participants, eg: Department of Education and Training, School Principals, School Councils (for research involving Government schools); Catholic Education Office (Catholic schools); School Boards (Independent schools); Senior Officers (Commercial or Government entities); Elders (Aboriginal communities); or Representative bodies (Collectives). Copies of approval letters must be attached to this application or, if pending at the time of submission, forwarded to HREC when available. Some authorities may decline to provide permission letters until ethics approval has been granted. In such cases, you should submit your application to the HREC for provisional approval pending receipt of the documentation.

Does research involve or impact on participants from external agencies or organisations? Yes No



Our project entailed collection of data from researchers, typically from other institutions, no more than ten years past the award of their PhD who could be participants in a focus group, one-on-one in-depth interviews or in a national on-line survey. The precise method for extending invitations to participants for each of these activities (which included email invitations, social media posts, and advertising by relevant bodies) was specified in the ethics application and approved by our Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). In most cases email approaches were to be made by third parties, for example distribution of a forwarded email; otherwise email contact was limited to those people whose contact details were known or publicly available.

The eligible population was adult, clearly defined and without special risks; individuals were able to offer informed consent as defined in the overarching principle for consent in the National Statement defined in Section 2.2.1:

The guiding principle for researchers is that a person’s decision to participate in research is to be voluntary, and based on sufficient information and adequate understanding of both the proposed research and the implications of participation in it.

An attempt to meet the requirement to seek approval for people to be invited to take part in the survey from the prospective 37 universities and many independent research institutes was extremely arduous and a significant barrier to recruitment. We question whether seeking this approval added ethical value, and indeed, whether it may have been required because of a misunderstanding of the purpose of the National Statement, in particular of Section 2.2.13:

Within some communities, decisions about participation in research may involve not only individuals but also properly interested parties such as formally constituted bodies, institutions, families or community elders. Researchers need to engage with all properly interested parties in planning the research.

Section 2.2.13 of the National Statement is placed in the section ‘Where others need to be involved in participation decisions’ and appears directly after a section relating to potential participants who lack the capacity to consent. This requirement appears on the documentation of some other Australian HRECs, (including Australian Catholic University, University of Melbourne,  Menzies Research Institute). However, we believe this section of the National Statement is intended to apply to research conducted within organisations and communities that have a duty of care towards people – or groups of people – who are at risk, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, school students or adults with special needs.

Alternatively, it could be construed the request to obtain approval is a misunderstanding of the first part of 3.1.16 and that HRECs take the view that the institutions, in their capacity as employers, have a duty of care as ‘gatekeepers’ for their employees.

Researchers and reviewers should consider the degree to which potential participant populations might be over‑researched or may require special consideration or protection and the degree to which the flow of benefits to that population (or to individual participants) justify the burdens.

The latter part of this section suggests that individuals within the ECR population that we were attempting to sample could have been permitted to make up their own minds about participation, as they do not fall into the type of special category suggested.

Equally, people should not be denied the opportunity to exercise self-determination or obtain the potential benefits of research solely because they are a member of a population that might be over-researched or may require special consideration or protection, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The literature about the work-life of ECRs in STEMM disciplines in Australia does not show evidence of an over-researched ECR population or a group which merits special consideration. We are aware of only two national surveys of Australian ECRs in STEMM in recent years (Hardy, Carter, & Bowden, 2016, Meacham, 2016).

If any university staff member received an invitation to participate from an external researcher, whether directly or forwarded from an internal address, it is unlikely they would have wondered if either the researcher, or they, needed permission from the organization. Instead, they would make an individual decision on participation or otherwise, and act accordingly.

We used several recruitment strategies. Since all the potential participants worked at universities and research institutes, a direct approach to these entities provided the logical and, indeed, preferred avenue. Organisations and associations whose members were likely to represent the target audience were also approached; these ‘umbrella’ groups were very supportive ofrequests for assistance with recruitment of participants and, more generally of the research. They extended an invitation to their members on behalf of the project team via broadcast email and social media. Another HREC-approved method of recruitment was via social media. Social media, which has no boundaries, proved itself to be a successful avenue for recruitment and due to its very nature and culture of sharing brought in responses from prospective participants based at many universities from which we had received no response to our initial request for approval to recruit their staff. Such responses did not violate ethics requirements, again bringing into question the merits of seeking institutional approval.

We did not interpret the requirement to obtain approval as being necessary for the ‘umbrella’ organisations as they do not have the same responsibility for, or duty of care to, the ECRs. This highlights another anomaly in the interpretation of the guidelines: what constitutes ‘an organisation’ from which approval might be required? So saying, we interpreted the ready agreement of these organisations to share the invitation, whether by distributing the link by email or by promoting it on social media, as implicit approval.

We recommend that HRECs amend their forms to permit researchers to offer further explanation about the nature of the people being recruited and their capacity to freely make a consent decision so that the Committee members can make appropriate decisions about the need for institutional approvals. We argue that these approvals should only be required when the research participants need a particular level of protection.


Hardy, M. C., Carter, A., & Bowden, N. (2016). What do postdocs need to succeed? A survey of current standing and future directions for Australian researchers.2, 16093.

Meacham, S. (2016). The 2016 ASMR Health and Medical Research Workforce Survey. Australian Society of Medical Research.


Katherine Christian, Federation University Australia School of Arts, Mt Helen Campus, Ballarat, Victoria

Carolyn Johnstone, Federation University Australia School of Arts, Mt Helen Campus, Ballarat, Victoria

Jo-ann Larkins, Federation University Australia School of Science, Engineering and Information Technology, Gippsland Campus, Churchill, Victoria

Wendy Wright, Federation University Australia School of Health and Life Sciences, Gippsland Campus, Churchill, Victoria[MI3]


Menzies Research Institute › Research › Forms › HREC_Application_Form

Australian Catholic University › assets › Ethics_Guidelines_revised_March_2012

University of Melbourne

This post may be cited as:
Christian, K., Johnstone, C. Jo-ann Larkins, J. and Wright, W. (17 September 2019) The need to seek institutional approval to survey staff –was this a misunderstanding of the purpose of Guideline 2.2.13 in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research?. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

Smarter proportional research ethics review0


Rushing toward a faster review decision should not mean relaxing standards or playing chicken with stricter central control

Gary Allen, Mark Israel and Colin Thomson

Too often, there is a danger that ‘expedited ethical review’ (a term not used in the National Statement since 1999) might equate to an approach that abridges the review process to the point where it’s little more than a friendly exchange between peers or a nod to seniority. We won’t call out the well-reported cases where it is hard to fathom how they were granted ethics approval. Such cases should make us uncomfortable, because they are invitations to replace institutional self-regulation with something hasher and unsympathetic.

Don’t get us wrong, we’ve spoken often and enthusiastically about the value of well-designed proportional review arrangements. We have assisted many clients, large and small, to design and implement such arrangements and believe that they form part of a well-conceived review system.

A proportional review arrangement can deliver a review outcome much faster than consideration by a human research ethics committee, but instead of a ‘Claytons’ or mock-review, it should have the following features:

  1. While there can, and should, be a mechanism to do an automated quick self-assessment of whether a proposed project qualifies for ethics review other than by a research ethics committee, the process should:
    1. not rely on questions along the lines of “Is this a low risk research project?”
    2. draw on, reference and link to guidance material.
    3. when using trigger questions, ensure they are nuanced, with probing sub-questions.
    4. include confirmation of a quick assessment by an experienced ethics officer or chairperson.
    5. retain an applicant’s responses, both as a record of what they said about the project, and for future evaluation of whether the arrangement is correctly assessing new projects and guiding applications along the correct review pathway.
  2. The process should preferably be online, easily (re)configurable, easily auditable, with information entered by applicants and ‘triaged’ by an ethics officer.
  3. A quality online system will populate committee papers and reports, will issue reminders and will populate with known information.
  4. While many projects may be reviewed outside of the human research ethics committee, the reviews should be conducted by experienced persons, who participate in annual professional development and who can draw upon internal and external policy and resource material.

In Australia, an institution’s proportional review arrangements might include the following pathways:

  1. Prior review– Research that has already been reviewed by another HREC, appropriately delegated review body, or an international body equivalent to an Australian research ethics review body.
  2. Scope checker– A test to confirm whether a proposed project is in fact human research.
  3. Exemption test– A test to determine whether the proposed research is a type an institution could exempt from ethics review as per the National Statement.
  4. HREC review required test– A test to confirm whether the research project is of a type the National Statement specifies must be reviewed by a HREC.
  5. Institutional exemption test– Many institutionsexempt some categories of human research from research ethics review (e.g. universities often exempt course evaluations and practical activities for a teaching-learning purpose).
  6. Negligible risk research– Subject to qualifying criteria an institution might establish a negligible risk review pathway in which applications are considered administratively.
  7. Low-risk, and minimal ethical issue research– Subject to qualifying criteria, proposed projects that are low risk and have minimal ethical sensitivity could be reviewed by the chair of the research ethics committee.
  8. Low-risk, some ethical issue research– Again subject to qualifying criteria, proposed projects that are low risk but have some ethical sensitivity could be reviewed by a small panel of the research ethics committee (including external member of the committee).
  9. HREC review – Only human research (see 2), that has not previously been reviewed (see 1) that is not exempt (see 3 and 4) and has not been classified as negligible risk (see 6) or low risk (see 7 and 8) needs to be reviewed by HREC.

An arrangement with the features listed above would allow for review that is proportional, timely, efficient and justifiable. Reviews that are merely expedited or fast places us all at risk. The increasing examples of “how could that have been approved?” makes it feel as though some institutions are gambling that a desire to meet researchers’ calls for quick, if superficial, review won’t be exposed by unethical practice. Perhaps they are correct, but every new reported review misstep makes us more nervous. Realistically, establishing a nationally administered reliable, robust and agile proportional review process requires substantial investment of time and other resources so is unlikely to happen.  But, what poor review processes could do is invite far more detailed direction on how institutions can design, conduct and monitor processes outside of a HREC. In our experience, there are greater and longer-lasting benefits that can accrue from an institution having a high quality approach to proportional review.

The above is a summary of the discussion we typically include in blueprint documents about establishing a robust proportional review arrangement. We have included some further notes on this topic on our and Patreon pages.

Please contact us at if you would like to discuss how we might assist your institution.

This post may be cited as:
Allen, G., Israel, M. & Thomson, C. (26 August 2019) Smarter proportional research ethics review.  Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

Should you be worried about paying children to take part in research?0

Posted by Admin in Human Research Ethics on July 30, 2019

Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University


The commentary below the article is by Virginia Morrow, Visiting Professor, University College London 

Decision-making about children’s participation in research requires consideration of factors such as the risk or sensitivity of the study, payments, study methods and the potential benefits for participants (NHMRC, 2007: Ch: 4.2). Although these issues are generally weighed up by adult decision-makers, including ethics committees, organisational gatekeepers and parents, it is important that children and young people are given the opportunity to make their own decisions about participating in research about issues that affect them (NHMRC, 2007: Ch: 4.2).

In Australia and other developed countries, it is common to provide payments to adult research participants as compensation or reimbursement. However, research payments for children are more contentious, even when research involves low or negligible risk. The general principle is that payments must not be offered at such a level that they become an inducement that is likely to encourage participants to take risks they would not be willing to accept with smaller payments (NHMRC, 2007: Ch: 2.2; Appelbaum, Lidz, & Klitzman, 2009; Wendler, Rackoff, Emanuel, & Grady, 2002; Spriggs, 2010; Singer & Couper, 2008). However, a lack of specific guidance has led some ethics committees to refuse research payments for children (Bagley et al., 2007), which may in turn reduce the likelihood of children participating in research about issues that affect them.

The Managing Ethical Studies on Sensitive Issues (MESSI) study used online surveys to present children and decision-makers with hypothetical scenarios of varying risk (or sensitivity) and payments, and tested their influence on participation.

The scenarios ranged from relatively benign or lower risk to highly sensitive or risky. For the lower risk scenario, we used an internet safety scenario, which asked about their views and the strategies they use in relation to internet safety. For the higher risk scenario, participants were asked about their experiences of sexting (defined as a sexual or sexually suggestive message, photo or video) and for copies be provided to the researchers.

To test the influence of payment amounts on the children and young people’s agreement to the different hypothetical scenarios, each respondent was presented with a range of payments from no payment through to A$30 (an amount commonly used by the research team), A$100 (a high payment unlikely to be approved for research with children) and a high ($200) prize draw entry.

Children and young people were also asked if they had had a “bad experience with this topic” that would affect their decision to participate.

The responses of 151 young people (aged 15-17 years) and 43 children (aged 12-14 years) who completed both the lower risk scenario and the high-risk scenario are reported in the article:

Taplin, S., Chalmers, J., Hoban, B., McArthur, M., Moore, T. & Graham, A. (2019) Children in social research: Do higher payments encourage participation in riskier studies? Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 14(2), 126-140.

We found that:

  • Children were able to identify the higher risk studies and respond accordingly. They were more likely to participate in the lower risk study than in the higher risk study.
  • Significant numbers of children and young people who were invited to participate in a study will do so for no payment.
  • Paying children increased the likelihood that they would agree to participate in the studies and, in general, the higher the payments the higher the likelihood of their participating.
  • No evidence of undue influence from payment was detected.
  • Children and young people of lower socio-economic status were more likely to participate in research, regardless of whether they were paid, and were no more influenced by higher payments than were those of higher socio-economic status.
  • Children with adverse experiences in the research area still generally wanted to participate, and should be given the opportunity to contribute their views and experiences.

In conclusion, the MESSI study has found that payments can be used to increase the participation of children and young people in research without concerns about undue influence.  However, the overriding consideration should always be the level of risk to the children and young people if they participate in the study, as is integral to undertaking such research ethically.

Further papers from the MESSI study on the HREC, organisational decision-maker and parent responses to the hypothetical scenarios are in development.

See also:

Powell, M., McArthur, M., Chalmers, J., Graham, A., Moore, T., Spriggs, M. & Taplin, S. (2018) Sensitive topics in social research involving children. International Journal of Social Research Methodology.21:6, 647-660.

Powell, M.A., Graham, A., McArthur, M., Moore, T., Chalmers, J. & Taplin, S. (2019, in press). Children’s participation in research on sensitive topics: addressing concerns of decision-makers, Children’s Geographies.


Appelbaum, P. S., Lidz, C. W., & Klitzman, R. (2009). Voluntariness of consent to research: A Conceptual Model. Hastings Center Report, 39(1), 30-39. doi:10.1353/hcr.0.0103

Bagley, S. J., Reynolds, W. W., & Nelson, R. M. (2007). Is a “Wage-Payment” Model for Research Participation Appropriate for Children? Pediatrics, 119(1), 46-51. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-1813

NHMRC (2007, updated 2018) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007. file:///C:/Users/sttaplin/Downloads/national-statement-2018-updated%20(1).pdf

Singer, E., & Couper, M. P. (2008). Do Incentives Exert Undue Influence on Survey Participation? Experimental Evidence. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 3(3), 49-56. doi: doi:10.1525/jer.2008.3.3.49

Spriggs, M. (2010). Understanding consent in research involving children: The ethical issues. A handbook for human research ethics committees and researchers. Melbourne: Children’s Bioethics Centre.

Wendler, D., Rackoff, J. E., Emanuel, E. J., & Grady, C. (2002). The ethics of paying for children’s participation in research. J Pediatr, 141(2), 166-171. doi: 10.1067/mpd.2002.124381

Funding and Team:

The MESSI study was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP150100864).

Chief Investigators: Prof Morag McArthur (ACU); A/Prof Stephanie Taplin (ACU); Dr Jenny Chalmers (UNSW); Prof Anne Graham (SCU); A/Prof Tim Moore (ACU/Uni SA)

Project Managers: Dr Bianca Hoban & Dr Mary Ann Powell.

.Comments on ‘Should you be worried about paying children to take part in research?’
……Virginia Morrow, Visiting Professor, University College London
Paying anyone to take part in research risks being seen as ‘undue influence’ and contrary to the principle that consent should be ‘freely given’. Adult concerns about protecting children usually mean that research ethics committees tend to err on the side of caution – while reimbursement of expenses or provision of snacks and beverages is seen as acceptable, paying children cash, or even saying thank you with gift vouchers, are highly contested..

Whether or not children should be paid is rarely discussed in the research literature, so it is very welcome to see this systematic attempt by Stephanie Taplin and colleagues to explore children’s opinions about whether or not payment influences their participation in low- or high-risk research..
The findings are useful and reassuring for researchers wanting to undertake research with children. It is notable that children and young people say they will participate in research for no payment, which demonstrates their altruism. Also interesting is that children and young people of lower socio-economic status were more generally likely to participate in research, regardless of whether they were paid. The findings about children’s altruism and reasonableness about participation in research reflect the results of a consultation on involving children in clinical research undertaken for Nuffield Council on Bioethics in UK (Spencer et al. 2015). This found that children themselves wanted their contributions to research to be valued and respected, to be thanked for their time, rather than induced to participate via ‘bribery’. Children and young people said that expressions of gratitude included providing information about what happens as a result of the research and how their contributions have been taken up more broadly in policy and practice..
Stephanie’s research (reported in full in Taplin et al. 2019) did raise a couple of questions that I think warrant further discussion. First, I wondered about using online surveys as a way to gather data from children – a good way to reach a lot of children quickly but limited in the depth to which the research can go. The questions of payment for research participation would be interesting to explore too in qualitative research, and perhaps a useful topic for group discussions..
.Second, the authors used a cash prize draw/lottery to attract children to participate in the online survey for the research, with a prize of A$200. This in itself raises questions, again rarely discussed in the research literature – one question being a perennial one for online research with children about proof of age, another question being, how much is too much?  These questions are for ethics committees to discuss, and Taplin et al.’s paper will be helpful for research ethics committee members. However, online cash draws are also often used by NGO researchers, with no recourse to ethics support. I once advised a researcher from a large NGO that had used a prize draw to encourage children to complete an online survey about mental well-being; the survey had not indicated a lower age limit and the researchers did not know what to do when seven-year-olds had entered sensitive data..
.Third, discussions about payments, compensation, reciprocity and reimbursement for children and young people (and indeed adults) in low and middle-income countries also merit much more systematic attention from the research community than they have received to date. Looking forward to reading more about this on the pages of Research Ethics Monthly in due course.

Spencer, G., Boddy, J. and Rees, R. (2015) “What we think about what adults think”: Children and young people’s perspectives on ethics review of clinical research with children. Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

This post may be cited as:
Taplin, S. (30 July 2019) Should you be worried about paying children to take part in research?. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

Proportional processes can sometimes be the answer to a few (apparently competing) problems0


But they shouldn’t equate to abridged consideration

Dr Gary Allen | AHRECS senior consultant | Profile
Professor Mark Israel 
| AHRECS senior consultant | Profile
Professor Colin Thomson AM
 | AHRECS senior consultant | Profile


There are three things that we have consistently found when we have conducted desktop audits of human research ethics arrangements:

  1. Researchers believe the manner in which their interactions with their institution’s human research ethics arrangements are being treated is disproportional to the real risks and ethical sensitivity of their work. Symptoms include delays waiting for the next meeting of the research ethics committee and lengthy forms, which seem excessive for a project that might be following the well-established practice in a discipline. For busy researchers, this seems to confirm their suspicion that the research ethics committee is indifferent to the nature and value of the project and the process is about policing their conduct and catching them in wrongdoing. This perception can be especially acute in disciplines other than those in health sciences and clinical trials and is particularly prevalent for participant-directed designs. We have written about the dangers of this adversarial climate (Israel et al., 2016), and as consultants have advised many research institutions on how to tackle it.
  2. Research ethics committees(and research office staff) talk of being overwhelmed with work (and sometimes paper), struggling to find time to focus properly on the most risky and ethically challenging projects, and being left with insufficient resources to conduct professional development or other constructive activities that could improve ethical practice (design, review, conduct or reporting). One of the common complaints of review bodies who are overwhelmed by their workload is that matters would be improved if more researchers were more familiar with and understood the requirements and submitted better applications.

Reviewers and researchers commonly point to the other as the source of the problem and insist only change to the other party’s attitudes will fix the ‘ethics problem’.

The irony is that a suite of related strategies can fix both these behaviours. Rather than one party changing and the other ‘prevailing’, if both change cooperatively and the functioning of human research ethics arrangements shifts to a more positive approach, the process can facilitate research and achieve the objective of resourcing reflective practice.

This article is not about a proportional research ethics review arrangement (a piece on that will be in the Research Ethics Monthlyincluding discussion about constructive review feedback). Instead, this piece is about proportional processes, which complement research ethics review. And, this is linked with our third finding.

  1. Institutional risk concerns appear to be associated with any delegation of these matters to a process outside of the research ethics committee.

Those processes relate to the consideration of:

  1. applicant responses to review feedback,
  2. ethical conduct reports, and
  3. variation requests.

Figure 1 This image (without the watermark) is available to USD3+ Patrons

The default position for consideration on those matters should be processing outside the research ethics committee, such as panel review (a small group of committee members via email), executive review (by the Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson) or administrative review. Full research ethics committee review should be reserved for the most risky and ethically sensitive of projects.

In our experience, it is common for institutions to include these items on the research ethics committee agenda. The purpose of this can be unclear: is it for ratification or notification? And are all committee members expected to consider these? In our view, this is often impractical: these matters typically need to be considered in the context of the whole project, a context that committee members cannot be expected to retain or revisit. Provided adequate records of the panel or executive consideration are kept, committee agendas may need to include these items only when the ethics consideration merits committee consideration.

AHRECS has been able to assist clients to define triggers for the processing pathways, stage transition towards the ultimate delegated review and establish the required record keeping. We have also assisted small/early journey institutions to set thresholds (soft and hard) that would trigger transitioning from the point at which all matters are considered by the research ethics committee to the implementation of delegated processing. In this way, change is proactive and stays ahead of the predictable rise in workload.

In the AHRECS subscribers’ area, USD10+ Patrons can access suggested criteria for the delegated processing of (b) and (c) from the list above.

If implemented correctly, this approach should help:

  1. Researchersperceive the process as far more relevant, reasonable and client focussed. They also should have a clearer appreciation of the triggers for higher review.
  2. Research ethics committees have more time and capacity to concentrate on genuinely risky cases, to be involved in professional development and to formulate policies and resources.
  3. Institutional risk concerns are alleviated by having transparent criteria for escalated consideration and reduced reasons for researchers to avoid the processes.


Israel, M, Allen, G & Thomson, C (2016) Australian Research Ethics Governance: Plotting the Demise of the Adversarial Culture. In van den Hoonaard, W & Hamilton, A (eds) The Ethics Rupture: Exploring Alternatives to Formal Research-Ethics Review. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp285-316.ISBN 9781442626089


Dr Mark Bahr, Chair of Bond University Human Research Ethics and Assistant Professor Psychology

Communication is the key to much of what we do in any part of our lives. Much of the time what is said and what is heard are very different things… communication and a shared understanding of our roles in reviewing and conducting research is vital, and as indicated often misunderstood through the lens of our role. There is a clear need to establish trust at the three levels indicated in the article. Where there is a reasonable understanding of the role of each group, institutional risk managers, research ethics committees and researchers there is plenty of scope for alternate models of review for certain types of low-risk review. For example, where research methods are being taught using authentic assessment methods with clearly defined limits there is scope for flexible review especially when a process is in place for escalation to a greater level of scrutiny when called for.

One difficulty with all review is the evaluation of risk, it is clear that we each appreciate risk differently. Appreciation of risk in the study and indeed the benefit of the study varies with the beholder. There is no intrinsic issue with proportional approaches but the setting of thresholds is an important consideration. One of the concerns I would have in perhaps the intermediate-term is that what starts off as a flexible framework with responsive settings, over time tends to drift towards rigidity. We need to be vigilant that we don’t drift in that direction.

Shara Close, Manager, Research Integrity & Ethics, Charles Darwin University

Broadly from my experience over the last five-plus years working in the research integrity and ethics space – both pre- and post-implementation of proportional review – the introduction of expedited review processes and streamlining of the administrative functions associated with HREC review has drastically shifted attitudes and the ‘adversarial climate’ associated with ethics review at the University. Colleagues joining the University post-implementation have commented on how peculiar it is to find such positive attitudes towards ethics review. We now find ourselves focusing on more nuanced issues regarding improving engagement with researchers and improving applications in an effort to increase the number of high-quality applications that are ‘approved first go’ or with only very minor adjustments.

Laura Thorncraft, Research Ethics Coordinator, Charles Darwin University

Our proportional process gives researchers a sense of choice and control over the review of their proposals. The researcher nominates the risk level and justifies the risks, so they make a case for proportional review that is treated seriously by research admin staff. It’s relatively rare that proposals are escalated. I think this feeds into the article’s first point about perceptions and adversarial relationships, and something that we do quite well.

This post may be cited as:
Allen, G., Israel, M. & Thomson,  C. (23 July 2019) Proportional processes can sometimes be the answer to a few (apparently competing) problems. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: